Last post I wrote about the banjo I hadn’t used but couldn’t give up. It sits back in its original place at home, propped up against the wall, still collecting dust, but still bringing a little smile to my face for whatever crazy reason.
But now I’m having a hard time giving up even more stuff I don’t use – haven’t used.
I thought I had it all together in the getting-rid-of-stuff department. Thought I was the expert in letting go, the expert in simple living, the one with all the answers about getting rid of what you don’t love and use.
Hmm. I’m having a hard time.
After my banjo, it was my grandma’s old amber glass cocktail set. I’d been storing a few boxes of these lovely things for years and never used them. But I kept them, thinking one day I’d bring them out and have a nice dinner party and think of my beloved grandma.
That day never came. Loads and loads of dinner parties happened and the amber glass cocktail glasses never came out of their boxes. So I asked my siblings if they wanted them. My brother jumped at the chance.
Was I giving up my memories?
As soon as he said yes I started having misgivings. Why hadn’t I used the glasses? They might even be valuable. How am I going to feel when I go to my brother’s house and they’re using the cocktail glasses? They hold the sweetest memories of holiday dinners at my grandma’s house where she’d set the table with her lace tablecloth and then set one of those glasses for every place – the light bouncing off of them in such a magical way. I was giving that up – letting it all go. What was I thinking?
I felt the same sadness I felt when the clerk at the used music store handed me money for my banjo. Not ready to give up just yet on this memory.
But I delivered the amber cocktail glasses to my brother anyway, even with a lump in my throat.
The Buddhist lesson applies to letting go of stuff
I think this is the lesson on simplicity here. It’s a Buddhist lesson that I’m applying to letting go of stuff you have feelings for but don’t use. The lesson is sitting with discomfort.
What this means is that it’s OK to feel discomfort or any other wide range of human emotions – perfectly OK, perfectly normal. We don’t always get to feel happy, try as we might. But we also don’t have to run from our uncomfortable feelings, such as by hanging on to stuff we really ought to let go of, just because we can’t face our uncomfortable feelings of letting go. Pretty soon we’re buried in stuff.
I don’t like being buried in stuff I don’t use, for sure. I like feeling free and light and I can’t feel that way if I’m buried in too much stuff. So I have to take a huge breath – maybe a lot of them – and let go of certain things and then sit with my discomfort.
I decided to do this with my grandma’s cocktail glasses. I knew I was not going to use them. I knew if I pulled them out of their boxes and put them on the table for dinner guests and poured wine into them – you couldn’t even tell what your wine looked like through the amber. I knew I like clear glasses so people know what’s in them. I knew all of these things. Knew I didn’t like having boxes all over the garage. Knew I don’t like feeling buried in stuff.
But still, I didn’t want to deliver the glasses to my brother because I didn’t want to let go of the memories. I didn’t like the lump in my throat, didn’t like the feeling of sadness washing over me, didn’t like all the second guessing I was doing (shoulda kept them, shoulda used them…).
Sometimes simplicity is not easy
I kept breathing and staying with my uncomfortable feelings and gave the boxes to my brother.
But it was and is hard. Sometimes living a simplified life is not easy. Sometimes – a lot of times – living a mindful life is not easy. Shopping and accumulating and living a distracted life is the easiest, for sure. Sitting with uncomfortable emotions from letting go is not.
Despite this, I had to make a choice. Was I going to allow stuff to overwhelm me, or was I going to be courageous and feel my feelings? I made the choice.
I kept my banjo because there’s still a chance I’ll use it. I gave myself six months. I’ve kept other, little things I don’t use, but that have sweet memories, and that don’t take up much space. Such as a teeny old clock in a fading and torn red leather case that was also my grandma’s. It’s only maybe 4” x 2” – very small. The clock sits on a shelf and when I walk by I look at it and my heart gets warmer. It takes up very little space, so the trade-off is just fine.
When my dad died several years ago and we cleaned out his stuff – the only thing I wanted was a hard plastic name tag that was his when he used to fly for an airline. He kept that on his luggage. I put it on my key chain and it takes up hardly any room. I didn’t want anything else. That name tag serves my yearning for tangible memories just fine.
I can’t tell you exactly how you should discern what to keep and what to let go of. It’s easy to keep the stuff you use all of the time. It’s easy to find homes for stuff you have no attachment to. But dang – it’s hard to let go of stuff that’s deeply infused with memories. For some reason we think we need these things in order to remember the feelings we had for the person, but that’s really not true. Our memories stay with us anyway.
And it’s hard to let go of stuff that brings us a kind of hope for a certain future, like my banjo. “Someday I’ll hang out on the front porch playing this thing. Someday I’ll join a bluegrass band….someday.”
Maybe you could choose one thing to let go of, and try being mindful and sitting with your uncomfortable emotions anyway. It could be a little test for you. See how you do, and see how your emotions morph and change like the wind. See how you can feel sad right now, and then see how you can feel something else and something else. We’re always changing.
I do know one thing. I am in love with feeling light, and that means not keeping loads of stuff I’m not using, and it also means feeling my feelings and just “be-ing” with them. So the next time I struggle with letting go of something, I may wind up keeping it, but I also will be mindful. I’ll let my feelings be. I won’t keep stuff simply because I’m afraid of feeling wistful or even sad. I’ll let go and I’ll know that my emotions will change, just like the wind.